Saturday, 15 March 2014

sunshine, shisha pipes and head-stands everywhere...

Picture this...a taxi careening down a high speed road being driven by a guy chatting on his mobile and narrowly avoiding serious collisions, with two sleep-deprived Australians in the back looking bleakly out the window into a night of sheet rain and lightning flashes. We are this scene's protagonists, it is our first night in Cyprus and as well as crossing all our fingers and toes in order to prevent death we are also keeping an eye out for some kind of electrical store, which is where we were told to alight in order to find this farm we would be volunteering on for the next month.

We get out of the taxi. It is still raining. And we are very confused. We seem to be in a town, surrounded by houses and shops; not exactly the type of area in which you would expect to find an organic farm. We wander around in the dark, following what look like the darkest, leafiest streets- using our very superior detective skills' we figure that the farm is probably not going to be somewhere well-lit and suburban- getting ever more drenched and irritated.

After about twenty minutes we accept the futility of wandering around this strange new town in the soaking night and seek help in the nearest open shop...the cashier speaks no English but thankfully the only other person inside does, and is more than willing to help us. She calls the guy who runs the farm, tells him where we are and then is on her way with a friendly wave from the car window.

Five minutes later a guy turns up outside and from under a hoody we hear in a very London accent "so you're who I'm s'posed to be meetin' then". Success!

The farm turns out to be the big fenced off area- well lit and suburban- that we've been wandering around scratching our heads about for the last half an hour; Mark (the guy) turns out to be very chatty and friendly and the other volunteers turn out to be some cool cats from Norway and Poland who we become very good friends with (so much so that we all end up staying at the farm only for as long as we are all there together).

The farm itself is a bit odd. It's a project started by somebody who has since left and now the point of the whole exercise is somewhat is funded by the fanciest hotel in the area and provides said hotel with some vegetables a few days a week, as well as randomly growing other vegetables just for the hell of it (it seems), with two people who have some conflicting ideas trying to run it as a team without really communicating with each other. Some previous volunteers have apparently been disappointed by the rather 'un-permaculture' ethos of the farm, but as we had no expectations at all and only wanted to escape a British winter and do a bit of yoga, we were more than happy with what we found.
We even learnt what 'permaculture' means.

As well as rejuvenating our vitamin-D deprived skin and becoming the yoga teacher's favourite class ever (really, we gave her a goodbye card and she cried), we did do some things of actual use with our six weeks.

Lots and lots and lots of weeding. It became a bit of a source of tension between the two guys in charge about how much time we should spend on weeding and how much on other (more fun) projects. Thankfully, for the most part, the arrow swung more into the 'fun' part of the chart. But still, no chemicals means a lot of is even almost theraputic sometimes- depending on how much you have already done and what is left stretching out in front of you.

We planted seeds and harvested sprouts and lettuces, watered plants and walked the dogs, took ourselves right back into the pioneer age with our 'incredible human-powered soil-sifting device' (think a huge metal sheet with holes in it which two people shake over a wheel barrow while somebody shovels dirt on it, all to a specially devised was very, very funny and very, very permaculture), cooked amazing vegetarian feasts everyday and did a few general maintenancy type jobs that every farm has a plethora of.

More memorably though...we built a very impressive outdoor kitchen, all the way from donning our architect hats and drawing up plans to eating some wonderfully alfresco lunches under the sun. We built the coolest pizza oven ever (after much trial and error and a little fire fiasco that left the cat's face a little blacker than it was when it was built) and had a very gourmet pizza party in honour of our wonderful yoga teacher, which concluded with us dancing on our kitchen bench (in order to test its strength, you understand). And we had the 'marmalade' day, which wasn't so much fun as memorable in the fact that the following night I actually dreamt I was still sitting at the table peeling mandarins and thereafter, whenever Peter (one of the founding members of the Goat Gang) offered us a mandarin it was always 'guys, who wants a piece of marmalade?'.

'After all this work you must have been exhausted' I hear you say, 'you know, all work and all that...'. Ahh, but you see...we worked only 5 hours a day 5 days a week, which left plenty of leisure time for things practice:

fruit picking:

sunset gazing from the roof (our internet hotspot):

camping on the beach:

hanging with the Goat Gang (now I will called because two of the members- you can guess which- very, very earnestly spent a lot of (wasted) time trying to convince Mark that having goats on the farm was probably the best idea ever and also because we scaled the side of a mountain in the manner of no no sorry, goats)

and smoking the most deliberated over home-made shisha ever:

So. You can probably guess from the tone of this article but I will reiterate for you anyway: we really, really liked North Cyprus. It is super easy to travel around, all you have to do is stick out your thumb and wait for a minute or two (so easy in fact that we even had hitch-hiking races), the weather is amazing and the people we met were fantastic. The farm may not be quite as permaculturally, self-sufficiently organic as some volunteers expect but, as for us, we got to work in the garden everyday, do lots of yoga with the most awesome mini yoga teacher ever and just generally hang out with some very fun people. And for that we are very grateful.

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